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SpaWatch: Skaná Spa

By Mary Alice Kellogg

Normally SpaWatcher is skeptical about the spa-casino combo. She has frequented many a casino resort spa – for research, of course – and too often found that exiting a massage only to run into a giant gaming floor does damage to her alpha state. Can relaxation and roulette happily co-exist?

You betcha, if the Turning Stone Resort and Spa in the farmland of central New York State is any indication. Owned by the Oneida Nation, the complex has the requisite contemporary hotel tower, show room, gaming, entertainment venues, nightclubs and surprisingly sophisticated fine-dining.

But it is the locale of the resort’s Skaná Spa that surprises… not to mention the world-class spa itself. Connected to the low-rise VIP hotel wing, The Lodge, filled with historic and contemporary Native American art and sculpture, all glass, stone and rich woods, surrounded by fountains, gardens and fields, it is a world away from the sleek goings-on nearby. Goodbye big city buzz, hello elegant serenity.

The two-story spa has a relaxing décor of stone and light wood against a light-green color palate, with murals, fountains, buffalo skin rugs, an indoor herb garden, separate men/women relaxation rooms and a warming fire pit in the reception lobby. Sculpture and art throughout – even in the treatment rooms — reflect a singular, soothing Native American vibe.

What dazzles – quietly – even more is the treatment menu. There are the requisite massages and wraps, of course, with most incorporating a true spirit of place, using herbs, essential oils and traditions reflecting the spa’s location and Oneida heritage. I chose the 110-minute Oneida Journey, given in the spa’s private VIP Suite. This expansive space with its own private steam, sauna, bath, treatment and relaxation rooms and garden, would be a wonderful place to live in, period.

A 20-minute soak in a huge tub filled with warm water, Evergreen Essential Oil and fresh rose petals in a sun-drenched room was just the beginning. Next: a full-body exfoliation with an Indian Sasparilla and black clay concoction, left on the skin as I was wrapped in warm towels for the full detox/relax effect. After a shower, it was time for a thorough revitalizing massage with White Pine and Bergamot oils. Overall, I felt my skin, muscles, and spirit had benefitted from a week in a private spa. Bliss is too bland a word to describe the feeling – which, by the way, lasted for days – but I was too darned content to think of another one.

If all casino-based spas – or most spas in general — followed Skaná’s approach and attention to detail, what a fab world this would be. I had indeed taken a unique journey and emerged the better for it. As a treatment souvenir, my therapist gave me a small handcrafted “dreamcatcher” sculpture to take home. This bit of spirit now hangs in my apartment, a physical expression of Oneida “sanuhtunyuheke,” or peace of mind.

Of course I could have tried my luck at the casino that night, but after the Oneida Journey, I had already hit the jackpot.


MARY ALICE KELLOGG, a New York-based writer and editor, is a recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Consumer Reporting. A contributor to many national publications, including Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, she has reported from 120 countries and five of the seven seas to date… and counting.Visit MaryAlicekellogg.com

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